Tell us a little about you, what is your background & where do you come from?
I grew up most of my years on a council estate in South London. I come from a rich kinship background of Warrior Heritage in West Africa on my mothers side. My family lineage are well-known to be fighters who fought in battle for their clan. My grandmother comes from a royal kinship, a fighting clan who were leaders in their village. My grandfather was a king and had leadership control over many governing chiefs in his area. He would often be approached to resolve disputes between leaders. I remember he had a special king’s stool with 2 huge Emblem Eagles on the side of each of the stool. It was only for him to sit on. I distinctively remember as a child being carried by my grandfather and being allowed to wonder around his special room where the elders would meet, only a few were allowed and would often stare at his special stool carved in rich wood and gold and would stare at the eagles.
At the age of about 3 or 4 I decided one day to sit on that stool and put my arms around it and acted like an important king. Some of the elders saw me and starting shouting at me to get of the stool. My grandfather walked in and smiled and told them to leave me and said “leave this one he is different and he is going to be leader one day”.
My father was a British Indian from an entrepreneurial background. My grandfather owed many retails outlets but his family are more known for owning cinemas and being a driving force in the cinema industry. My father sadly passed away when I was in my twenties. I always remember his distinctive squeaky laugh and how he would always light up a room with his charm and sense of humour. I miss him a lot.
Why combat sports & when did you start?
I grew up around combat in general from a very early age which later led to combat sports. I believe the two are linked so I would say my fascination with combat and my journey started from a very young age. From as young as 2 weeks old my father would pick me up on the weekends and would take me to the cinema which his family owed. I would often be left in the hands of my family members who would be watching films whilst my dad went to look over the overall business. They would usually show popular Indian films, British and American films and martial arts films and would alternate these films every weekend. It was from an early age while being left for a little while watching these films on the big screen that I stumbled across martial arts. As I was growing up it became apparent that I had this fascination whenever it came to a martial art. I would then ask my father or whoever took me to please let me stay and watch the action films to the end.
I absolutely loved all fighting movies like Snake and the Monkey Shadow, Drunken Master, all the shoaling movies but the first time I saw Bruce Lee as a young man I was hooked. This man’s fighting style, his movements, his timing, his confidence. I was blown away.
On my mother’s side in West Africa almost everything is expressed mainly through music. It’s all in the beat and rhythm of a drum. Warriors could communicate from one end of a village to miles away through the beat of a drum. Drum beats could symbolise danger or the birth of a new born etc. The drum beat also expressed warrior movements and codes. I absolutely loved the sound of those drums and as a young child I would practice and dance to these drums whenever I heard them, this could go on for hours. As I am from a Warrior background my expression was a form of West African Kung fu and every single step and movement has a meaning an expression of oneself in combat and on the battlefield. I still can’t help but to move whenever I hear an African drum and no matter how down I feel when I hear an African Drum being played it uplifts my spirit and reminds me of my childhood.
Whenever I would watch a martial arts movie I would then ask myself how would the likes of Bruce Lee fair against an African Warrior on the street or in a no-holds barred battle, how would this style compare with that style etc. While growing up I started watching any form of combat from as little as 3 years and still do it till now, I guess. Even as a young man when I would see two people arguing I would analyse body language and whenever there was a battle between fighters be in on the streets of Africa or on my council estate in South London (or anywhere as a matter of fact) I would study every intricate detail of who won, how did they win, why did they win, what did they do to win, how does martial arts and combat sports fit into these scenarios of real combat? While growing up as a young man up to my early twenties on some occasions I had to defend myself or my weaker friends or younger siblings from bullies, whether it was one or one or against multiple opponents. I would sit back and analyse afterwards what could I have done better next time how could I have won those fights quicker, what would I do next time if I had to defend myself again. As a young teenager I would draw sketches of moves and techniques etc and would analyse when these techniques could be used etc. I would spend hours watching all the greats in any combat sports be it boxing, karate etc etc.
I guess in the back of my mind I was always searching for the ultimate combat style that was applicable for real fights.
My mother on the hand was a devout Christian and knowing my family history and lineage she wanted to steer me away from combat as much as possible, she wanted me to focus on my education and pursue career which didn’t involve fighting. She took me to church almost every Sunday. Whenever I would say “Mum, I think I would make a great fighter she would say in her strong African accent “Silly boy, go and get yourself a degree and go and get yourself a good job.”
The search was still in me so while studying at University I took up Kung fu as a hobby but stopped after a while to focus on my studies.
After University I took up other combat sports but found myself stopping after a while. I felt something was still missing in terms of finding this ultimate combat or Martial Arts that could be complete for the street, after all I had experience with raw combat myself.
I also took up Kickboxing for a little while as I remembered the film Kickboxer and liked the elbows and knees etc but soon realised it wasn’t quite what I was personally looking for and it wasn’t quite what I remember seeing in the movie. Someone recommended KO GYM in East London and mentioned Muay Thai and I thought let me go there from South London and see what this martial arts was all about.
Upon entering KO GYM everything changed for me. The smell of the old traditional rugged Thai boxing gym the fighters who looked so calm but yet focused and watching them smash the bags and hitting bags. The hissing noise they were making the techniques implemented knees to the body and head, elbows to head, Clinching, throws, kicking with the shins to the body. My analytical brain starting calculating: “I like this already, this would actually work in a real combat scenario” I thought to myself. While training I got to know the owner and coach of KO GYM, Bill Judd. Something about this particular man intrigued me. The calmness but yet strict approach the presence he had whenever he came to teach I knew I was now in the hands of a proper fighter. Once I took up Muay Thai it ticked a lot of boxes as to what I had been searching, everything started to make sense and I knew I found a martial art that would keep me going for a very long time. I also remember the first time I heard the Thai Music and the drums played whilst training in the gym I asked why the music and it was explained that it was part of Muay Thai and was played during fights. So, a martial art also been played to the sound and rhythm of a Drum beat and instruments, I like the sound of this I thought to myself. This, of course, reminded me of my younger years. I said to myself I am going to master this ancient art form and I am going to add it to all my experiences. I have never looked back.
How many styles of martial arts do you know?
I have dabbled in quite a lot of martial arts growing up but the ones that I spent a bit more time in are: West African Kung fu, West African Street Combat, South London Street Combat, Chinese Kung fu, taekwondo, boxing, kickboxing, Kali, Jiujitsu, wrestling for MMA and of course Muay Thai in which I have trained the longest.
What achievements do you have?
You’re also known as the “Fighter Who Created History”. Tell us a little about that.
While training in Muay Thai at KO GYM in East London my fighting aspiration got put on stand still as I suffered from a freak accident which caused my elbow to fully pull out of its socket. After being put to sleep by paramedics who were called to the scene and driven to hospital in an ambulance doctors declared that I would not be able to fully straighten my arm again and would ultimately not be able to compete again because of the risk involved. I had to undergo physio for a very long time. My love and passion for Mauy Thai suddenly had to be put on hold. I almost went into depression but once I could finally move my arm a little I decided to work around it and not complain so I would train whenever I could to work around the extreme pain, a pain which I still feel to date. After the opening of KO NEXT GENERATION GYM in South London and having already produced numerous champions I felt something was missing and started to feel this burning desire to fight one more time. I decided to get myself back in shape and work around the pain and the inability to straighten my arm in order to compete again.
After 10yrs out of competition and as a veteran in 2014 I decided to go straight to the World Unified Championships in Italy with no warm up fights. The Unified World Championships first started in 2013. Over 28 World Martial Arts Federations had come together to determine the best fighters and to determine Real and True Unified World Champions. With intense training with my own students as well as our in house MMA Coach I decided to enter 3 different disciplines.
I was advised by those at the top of The England Team that I should really just stick to one as I hadn’t had a fight for so long and was entering as a veteran and that it would be near impossible to achieve as it was a very high level competition for tournaments and I was going to face current active world class fighters. I was even reminded that should I get to all finals it would also mean that I would have to compete in all 3 disciplines on the same day. I remember being told “Sam do you even realise that the MMA section are 5 minute rounds etc etc”. I told them not to worry and that I would be okay. You see, deep down inside I always knew I was a Warrior and deep down within I always knew that I was already a world champion in my heart. All the years of not being able to compete, I wanted to do something for myself and inspire my students as well as tell the World who this hidden Warrior really is. I also wanted my students to understand that there is nothing to fear and that what I am teaching them including my style of fighting is the Real Deal. I took some of my students with me who were also competing. I hadn’t told them that I’ll be fighting again so you can imagine the shock on their face when my name was called for weigh ins. During the competitions I helped corner my fighters whenever I had a chance to whilst balancing it with my own fights. During my fights my students only gave me water I had no corner man instruction. I wanted to prove to myself that all those years, all the experience I had gained, all that I teach my students can be showcased by myself in a tournament setting under pressure and wanted to have my back against the wall, against fighters I knew nothing about.
I got to the finals on all three disciplines winning gold in submission wrestling, Silver in MMA and Gold in K1.
On the last day of competition I was completely exhausted and drained. I couldn’t sleep the whole night before. I distinctly remember in the finals in MMA we ended up on the floor my opponent had me in a Key Lock, luckily it was on my good arm. My opponents coach moved around the cage telling him how to fully manipulate and put the technique fully on my arm. It was around the last 30 seconds or a minute. My students are more from striking and couldn’t give me any corner man instructions. I remember bridging my back and started remembering all my experiences with combat even up to me being a kid in West Africa. I smiled and then grit my teeth and looked over the cage to the ring which I knew I had a K1 final soon to go. I thought to myself “No way am I going to let you stop my dream no way am I going to give up. I could hear his cornering team and coach screaming to break my arm, the referee asked if I was okay and I was perfectly fine. I lasted to the end and only lost by points. After the MMA during the pad warm up for my K1 finals I told one of my students that I also couldn’t straighten my good arm because of the key lock attempt but told him not to tell the other students so both my arms were limited to be able to strike properly. I then went to a corner quietly and prayed and asked that the Lord please help me and give me strength to fulfil my dream after the prayer I felt good to go and felt a renewed energy come out of nowhere. I won the finals of the k1 fight by unanimous decision almost stopping my opponent by knockout in the last seconds of the last round.
Amazingly after the tournament I was awarded a Grand Unified World Title and Belt as well as my 3 Medals for what I achieved, something which has never been achieved in the history of combat sports and Martial Arts World Championships.
You built the infamous gym, KO NEXT GENERATION in 2009. How did that come about?
At University I studied business studies and management with the aim of opening a gym. At first, I was just thinking of a typical fitness gym with weights etc but after university reality kicked in I had no money so had to work. I eventually opened my own business but it wasn’t a gym. I run it successfully for a number of years. I had accomplished all that I thought would make me happy and complete and hopefully make my mum proud but deep down inside I knew something was missing. I thought to myself that I would open a Thai Boxing gym near my house and use it to keep myself in shape and teach whoever comes in be it for fitness, self-defence or to compete. I decided to name it as part of “KO” in order to show respect and loyalty to my coach as I had spent most of my years in martial arts under him and he had helped me in so many ways and helped me to package who I am as a fighter. I tried to balance both my businesses but I found my passion and time being steered more towards the gym. I eventually moved my other business next to the gym which then took second priority. I haven’t looked back since.
What’s Unique about KO NEXT GENERATION ?
There a number of reasons why KO NEXT GENERATION is unique. The Gym is unique because we are a school of excellence and pride ourselves on paying attention to detail. The Gym is unique because of what we stand for. We stand for family, loyalty, supporting each other, helping develop champions in or out of the ring.
We work really hard towards our goals. We are unique because we stand for honesty and integrity.
We are unique because we have the real authentic Muay Thai of KO mixed with Sam Nankani’s unique style of combat fighting. The Gym is unique because it was built on passion and faith.
Congratulations on KO NEXT GENERATION producing 33 Champions with 71 Titles. Have any advice for those thinking about stepping up and competing?
Just step up and do it. Make up your mind and go for it. It’s really that simple. Remember beyond fear and doubt is your recognised dream. If you are thinking of competing simply work your way up and make sure you are in the hands of a good and caring coach. Develop a “no give up” attitude and train to be the best. If you lose a competition go back and learn from it and try even harder next time and you’ll go far.
Who are the Classes aimed at?
Our classes are aimed at everyone from children as young as 6 to adults with no age limit. The classes are designed to get you in shape, to keep healthy as well as learn a practical self defence at the same time. Members attend our classes for different reasons be it for weight loss or competing. You do not need to compete or become a fighter to train at the gym.
What makes an ideal coach?
An ideal coach is an expert in their field and will have a lot of knowledge as well as practical experience in their craft. An ideal coach will be passionate, caring, kind and yet command respect from their students at the same time. An ideal coach will seek to bring out the best in their students and will see their student as a true representative of their system, philosophy etc. An ideal coach will be one that has a good track record of producing champions in their field of work with the highest evidence being the ability to produce world champions on numerous occasions.
You’re also active in the industry and WKU Vice President Ringsports k1 & Thai Boxing and GCO England President. What’s involved?
My position involves Sanctioning WKU and GCO Shows and Tournaments. Ensuring that promoters adhere to set governing rules of conduct (eg ensuring that venues for shows have the right insurance cover, fully qualified and insured referees, paramedics, provision of safe rings or cage, fighters using the right size gloves etc etc).
My position also involves grading fighters from lower level grades to Black Belts, sanctioning and overseeing title fights from local to world titles. Creating regional and national tournaments to determine the best fighters to represent England as well as scouting for the best fighters to represent England on International and World level competition. I also train and qualify referees and judges.
What one thing do you know now that you wished you knew when you were starting out?
The one thing I know now would be to be humble and kind but not let certain people abuse that and see it as a weakness. I would give my time and effort to people who really deserve it but you live and you learn. Other than that I wouldn’t change much.
What’s a typical day like?
A typical day would be wake up say hello to my wife and kids. I would then pray and read a bible verse and will try to understand how that could apply to my everyday life. If my kids are still around I will sometimes pray for them before they leave for work or school and will wish them a blessed day. If my wife is still at home I will give her a kiss and a hug and wish her a blessed day too. I would then head of to work and get to the task at hand be it admin, doing private sessions with clients or fighters, double checking that classes are being run properly. In the evening I will run my classes for the Elite Fighters. On some days I will leave for work as early as 9am and won’t get home till as late as 11pm. Sometimes, I will also communicate with promoters into the late hours (even up to 1am) in order to get the right matches for my fighters etc.
What are your most and least favourite exercises?
Burpees and leg raises are my least favourite exercises that’s why I do them the most. No pain no gain.
You’re a very busy man and yet we all have off days when you’re not as productive as you’d like, how do you deal with days like these?
When I have a non-productive day (which is very seldom) it’s usually when I’m too tired so I don’t take it too personal. I tell myself that it’s time to rest my mind and body and if it means I have to rest for half a day or take one or two days off so be it. If it’s not due to tiredness I will sit back and analyse why it happened and look to improve on it next time.
What would you like to accomplish next?
I would like to get my main fighters on to Elite mainstream shows all around the world so they can showcase their skills on a bigger platform and would love for the world to see this wonderful, different and unique new style that I have created. We have worked extremely hard to get this far and I feel it’s our time to shine and showcase to the world what KO NEXT GENERATION is all about. I know the world will marvel when they get to see this unique style fully on display and they will also get to see a master tactician at work.
I would also like to see my show NGC (Next Generation Combat) grow as well as general growth and expansion of the gym.
What message would you like to send to the world as to who you are as both a fighter and a coach?
I would like the world to know that I am a warrior who was surrounding by combat from a very early age. A quiet confident individual who never felt the need as a fighter to be in the limelight and thereafter had no choice after suffering from a freak accident.
I am secure in who I am as a person, a fighter and as Coach. I was on a personal quest from young to find the most effective martial arts or combat sport and in doing so have created my own different style of fighting.
I have spent hours upon hours drawing sketches of my own moves as a young man, I have spent hours upon hours watching all the greats studying their every move,I have spent hours upon hours perfecting Muay Thai behind closed doors and adding my own twist to it, I’ve spent hours upon hours going for runs doing various exercises testing what’s the most effective for combat, I have spent hours upon hours and sleepless nights coming up with my own combo’s and counters to strikes, I have spent hours upon hours and sleepless nights coming up with strategies for my fighters against their opponents, picturing how best to use my style against them, I have spent hours upon hours developing my fighters teaching them and perfecting their every strike and movements and getting them to understand and see what I see in fights, I have spent hours upon hours teaching my fighters how to pass on my style to aspiring fighters coming up from the lower levels in the gym, I have spent hours upon hours watching all my fighters spar and know every single one of their strengths and weaknesses.
I spend hours upon hours holding pads for my fighters as well as sparring with my fighters, often blocking the pain I feel in my elbow. Sometimes after doing so my elbow locks and my arm ceases to move properly for a couple of days. I don’t tell my fighters and I hide the pain as I feel I have to do everything in my power to help them win.
I just enjoy watching people succeed and when I am cornering my fighters in my mind I am in that ring with them after all they are using my style. I feel fulfilled happy when they win or give it their best shot to showcase the style to win.
I am simply telling the world a story to carefully watch my fighters every move and to watch carefully the connection they have with me because in effect when they watch my fighters they are actually also watching me. If you open your eyes you will soon realise that you are also actually watching a great Warrior expressing who he is through his fighters.
What message do you have for your mum?
I would like to say “Mum, I love you lots. I did my best to listen and I got my education and have now created a job I enjoy. I am now doing what I really love and I try to give back to my community and help teach that it’s better to be a good person and have integrity than to have all the riches in the world. I have created a style of fighting that limits my fighters to take serious blows and I have asked my fighters that anytime they get a knockout they should sit down or kneel down and wait for paramedics to attend to their opponents in order to show respect in the sport. I am at peace with my chosen path of combat sport.”
“I now feel more complete. I hope I’ve made you proud.”
What do you never leave home without?
I never leave home without my prayer, my phone, wallet and lastly I try to never leave home without a positive attitude.
Name 3 guilty pleasures?
When I want to let myself go a bit my 3 guilty pleasures are:
1) any form of meat especially grilled steak and chicken wings (can’t live without my chicken wings)
2) A packet of crisps
3) Fizzy drinks
If you could have one superpower, what would you choose and why?
It would be to go back in time and shake all my personal favourite fighter’s hands and get to know them a bit more and maybe even have a little friendly spar with them and of course one of the fighters on the very top of that list will be BRUCE LEE.
Thanks to Master Sam for agreeing to this interview with UB Fitness and be sure to follow him below: